Monday, 29 June 2020

King of the Belgians (J. Woodworth / P. Brosens, 2016)

King of the Belgians [which can be bought or rented here] is a road movie in which a dormant King gets lost in the Balkans and awakens to the real world. King Nicolas III is a lonely soul who has the distinct feeling he’s living the wrong life. He embarks on a state visit to Istanbul with a British filmmaker, Duncan Lloyd, who has been commissioned by the Palace to shoot a documentary intended to polish the monarch’s rather dull image.

The news breaks that Wallonia, Belgium’s southern half, has declared its independence. The King, bursting with purpose, must return home at once to save his kingdom. And for once, he declares, he will write his own damn speech. As they rally to depart, a solar storm strikes the earth causing communications to collapse and airspace to shut down. No phones. No planes. To make matters worse, Turkish security coldly dismisses the King’s suggestion they return home by road. But the King has no intention of waiting out this storm. Lloyd, sniffing an opportunity of historical proportions, hatches a dubious escape plan that involves flowery dresses and singing Bulgarians.

Thus begins their undercover odyssey across the Balkans, a journey that’s loaded with wrong turns, startling encounters and moments of fleeting joy.

Director's Statement:

An Icelandic volcano erupted and an idea was born: let’s drop a Belgian King in Istanbul, stir up a natural disaster, spark a political crisis and then launch him on a homeward overland journey, incognito, that features trip-ups, show-downs and moments of grace. Displacement as the essence of comedy, in other words. 

The challenge was how to actually tell this tale... The Royal Palace hires Duncan Lloyd, a Brit, to upgrade the King’s image. Nicolas III is a lonely soul who drifts through the motions of protocol and is largely kept silent. His unexpected odyssey through the Balkans causes him to question his worldview and to ponder his awkward place in the universe. He is but a man. But he is also a King. What could or should that mean in such fragile times? Lloyd’s lens is the sole prism through which we experience these six extraordinary days in the life of a King. 

And what about Belgium, a complicated little country that specializes in surrealism and compromise? The ongoing political turmoil in our peanut kingdom and Europe’s ever-deepening identity crisis were a key source of inspiration. But the political tangent of the film remains secondary to the inner transformation of the King as he savors his anonymity and begins to discover his genuine yearnings. 

To enhance authenticity and spontaneity we often invited the actors to improvise. And we filmed chronologically. The situations become increasingly outrageous but actually remain delightfully believable. The result is King of the Belgians, a road movie about a wayward monarch profoundly lost in the Balkans.

Source/image: Flanders Image

Monday, 8 June 2020

The Ape Man (Pieter Vandenabeele, 2017)

A small, plump man lives on the top floor of a skyscraper. During the day, he's a garbage man, but in the evening, he watches Tarzan movies and maintains his lush roof garden. One day, when he hears the aggressive rants of his neighbour, he looks for the Tarzan inside to rescue the Jane next door.

Centraal staat een klein, dik, eenzaam mannetje dat op de bovenste verdieping van een wolkenkrabber woont. Hij heeft een voorliefde voor Tarzanfilms en onderhoudt daarom een weelderige daktuin. Wanneer hij, over de muur heen, hoort hoe de buurman agressief tekeer gaat, zoekt hij naar de Tarzan in zichzelf om zijn buurvrouw te redden.

Pieter Vandenabeele is an illustrator and animator. In 2014, he graduated at KASK / School of Arts Gent with the animated short A Dog's Life, which was selected at several international film festivals. His newest animated short, The Ape Man [available here], is loosely based on a comic book he made a few years ago. Other work of his includes Mee-eters and De Kraai Met Vier Poten.

"The short animation film, The Ape Man, finds its origin in De Amateur, a comic book I made in 2011 as a graduation project for my training as an illustrator. With this comic, I wanted to tell the story of a lonely (little) man hopelessly in love with the woman who lives next door. It was my intention to portray the desire for an impossible love in a goofy way through this character. I originally planned to add a couple of chapters to this comic, but after my education as an animator, I decided to adapt the story to an animation film. In order to do so, I added a pinch of action and just a touch of entertaining violence" - Pieter Vandenabeele

Source/image: Flanders Image


Tuesday, 26 May 2020

We Are One: A Global Film Festival (29/5/20–7/6/20)

Tribeca Enterprises and YouTube announced today the programming slate for We Are One: A Global Film Festival, which will feature over 100 films co-curated by 21 prolific festivals, hailing from 35 countries, in addition to talks, VR content and musical performances. The 10-day digital event will celebrate global voices, elevate films that have the power to create change and bring audiences from around the world together to create meaningful connections. Assembling some of the world’s most talented artists, storytellers and curators around a central effort to provide entertainment and offer relief in the form of supporting organizations responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival will run exclusively on YouTube May 29 - June 7 at

We Are One: A Global Film Festival will give audiences an opportunity to experience different cultures through an artistic lens - each official selection was handpicked for inclusion to highlight the singularities of each participating festival, while also providing a voice to filmmakers on a global stage. Many of these titles will have significant debuts at the festival, with programming consisting of over 100 films, including 13 world premieres, 31 online premieres, and five international online premieres. A truly international festival, the programming will represent over 35 countries and will include 23 narrative and eight documentary features, 57 narrative and 15 documentary short films, 15 archived talks along with four festival exclusives and five VR programming pieces.

We Are One: A Global Film Festival will host a number of specially-curated talks, both archived from past festivals and brand new discussions, that will offer viewers a chance to revisit important moments in film. Talks will feature Francis Ford Coppola with Steven Soderbergh, Song Kang-ho and Bong Joon-ho, Guillermo del Toro, Jane Campion and Claire Denis. 360 VR selections will feature Emmy-nominated documentary Traveling While Black and Atlas V, a sci-fi narrative starring Bill Skarsgard, as well as additional titles with notable talent including John Legend, Oprah Winfrey and Lupita Nyong’o. There will also be special musical performances, including a 30 minute DJ set by Questlove.

The global festival will include programming curated by and unique to the identity of all participating festival partners, including: Annecy International Animation Film Festival, Berlin International Film Festival, BFI London Film Festival, Cannes Film Festival, Guadalajara International Film Festival, International Film Festival & Awards Macao (IFFAM), International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR), Jerusalem Film Festival, Mumbai Film Festival (MAMI), Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, Locarno Film Festival, Marrakech International Film Festival, New York Film Festival, San Sebastian International Film Festival, Sarajevo Film Festival, Sundance Film Festival, Sydney Film Festival, Tokyo International Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival, Tribeca Film Festival, and Venice Film Festival.

True to its mission, We Are One: A Global Film Festival will seek to bring artists, creators and curators together around an international event that celebrates the exquisite art of storytelling. In doing so, it will aim to provide not only solace and entertainment for audiences during a time when it’s needed most, but also opportunities for these individuals to give back through donations to the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, UNHCR, Save the Children,, Doctors Without Borders, Leket Israel, GO Foundation and Give2Asia, among others. Audiences will be able to donate to COVID-19 relief efforts through a donate button or link on every film page. The full festival schedule is available at

Source/images: BFI

Tuesday, 5 May 2020

The Other Lamb (Małgorzata Szumowska, 2019)

The Other Lamb marks the English-language debut of Małgorzata Szumowska, who in 2011 directed Juliette Binoche in the highly impressive EllesElles boasted a typically strong performance from the excellent Anaïs Demoustier, a performer whose career has skyrocketed over the past decade; earlier this year, she picked up the best actress award at the Césars in a ceremony which made the headlines for all the wrong reasons.  As with EllesThe Other Lamb sees Szumowska elicit a robust turn from a young female lead, this time in the form of Raffey Cassidy, who in recent years has caught the eye in films such as The Killing of a Sacred Deer and Vox Lux.  With this is mind, it's a pity that the overall quality of The Other Lamb doesn't come close to matching that of Cassidy's peformance.

Cassidy's Selah is a young woman born into a "flock" of females presided over by "shepherd" Michael (Michiel Huisman), who, as the group's sole male, rules unchallenged in the community's isolated forest settlement.  The women are divided into two categories - wives and daughters, clad respectively in red and blue - and Selah, whose mother died giving birth to her, appears to be a model member of the group.  The self-anointed Michael, whose image is prominently displayed on a large mural on the side of a caravan, frequently selects a different woman from the group to receive his "grace", and there's little doubt as to what this involves.

An intrusion from the outside world forces the cult to suddenly abandon their camp, and the group set off on a long, hard trek to find a new site.  During the journey, Michael's cruel behaviour escalates, prompting Selah to question both the community's hierarchy and its leader.  Selah grows close to Sarah (Denise Gough), a "broken" wife ostracised from the group by Michael, and it's through Sarah that Selah learns of the mother she never knew.  Trudging through the countryside in all weathers, the group happen upon a dilapidated house which looks as if it might work as a new base, but Michael dismisses the property as having belonged to "broken people".  Therefore, the gruelling hike continues, as Selah's resentment of Michael starts to come to the boil.

The Other Lamb features a fairly promising setup and, as already mentioned, a fine performance from Raffey Cassidy (furthermore, Michał Englert's cinematography is superb), so it's unfortunate that the story is both thin and poorly-paced.  The Other Lamb's case is not helped by it appearing on the tail of a couple of other recent films on a similar theme: Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood and Mary Harron's Charlie Says, while both centring on the Manson Family, covered similar ground far more successfully.  Going back a bit further, Ti West's excellent The Sacrament - which basically retold the Jim Jones/Peoples Temple story - is a good example of a strong, direct film focusing on a cult, while The Endless demonstrated how a more oblique take on the subject can work.  The Other Lamb, on the other hand, simply doesn't have enough about it to warrant a recommendation; it hovers between arthouse and horror, seemingly unsure of its own identity.

Darren Arnold

Image: TrustNordisk

Friday, 17 April 2020

Cold Blood Legacy (Frédéric Petitjean, 2019)

Jean Reno. De immer kalme acteur die meestal geassocieerd wordt met rollen als politierechercheur, gangster of huurmoordenaar. De bedaard uitziende Fransman heeft een welbepaalde uitstraling dat perfect past bij zulke rollen. Raar maar waar. Ik heb nog maar recent de film Léon: The Professional gezien. Zonder twijfel het allerbeste dat Jean Reno heeft gedemonstreerd op het witte doek. Een ervaren huurmoordenaar die als eenzaat het kleine meisje Mathilda onder zijn hoede neemt en haar de kneepjes van het vak bij te brengen. Een cult-film avant la lettre. In Cold Blood Legacy toont Jean Reno éénzelfde personage. Een professioneel en berekend iemand die op een beredeneerde wijze zijn klusjes opknapt. En daarmee is het meest positieve over deze film gezegd.

Cold Blood Legacy is een straight-to-video film, wat dan al een voorbode is van wat je kan verwachtingen. Bijster weinig goeds, vrees ik. Ja, Henry (Reno) straalt autoriteit en kalmte uit. Zijn woorden zijn zorgvuldig afgewogen. En hij verdiept zich in filosofisch boekwerken zoals The Art of War. Verder weet hij genoeg over letsels en het behandelen ervan. En tenslotte lijkt hij bedreven te zijn in survival-technieken. Technieken die noodzakelijk zijn, wil je overleven op een geïsoleerde winterse plek ver van de beschaving en omgeven door de ongenaakbare natuur. Kortom, het is weeral en genot om Jean Reno aan het werk te zien.

Spijtig genoeg is Reno’s schitterend acteerwerk niet voldoende om een film te doen slagen. De rest is op zijn zachtst gezegd abominabel slecht. Niet alleen is het verhaal op zich vreselijk saai en niet interessant te noemen. Ook sommige vertolkingen zijn om te janken. Vooral de twee politierechercheurs Kappa (Joe Anderson) en Davies (Ihor Ciszkewycz) winnen de wisselbeker “Meest belabberde personages”. Alhoewel dit eerder te wijten is aan het script dan de kwaliteiten van de acteurs zelf. Ook David Gyasi’s personage is vatbaar voor kritiek. Zijn uiteindelijke rol in deze film, bleef voor mij nog een raadsel op het uiteinde. Maar het is vooral het verhaal waar het scheef loopt. Echt duidelijk is het niet. En bovenal lijkt het alsof het een samenraapsel is van verhaallijnen en impressies die op een verwarrende manier in één verhaal zijn geperst.

Toch nog enkele positieve bemerkingen. Sarah Lind acteert overtuigend, ook al doet ze dat bijna de gehele film vanuit een horizontale positie. De interactie tussen haar en Henry maakt de film soms boeiend om naar te kijken. Een psychologisch steekspel tussen twee onbekenden met hun eigen geheim waarbij Henry aantoont dat hij een deskundige is op zowel geneeskundig gebied als op het gebied van marteltechnieken. En verder is de film doorspekt met prachtige natuurbeelden van dit winters landschap. Verwacht echter geen spanning of beklijvende actiescenes. De film is gewoonweg futloos en saai. En aan het einde van de film bleef alles nog steeds onduidelijk en wazig. Het feit dat ik de volgende dag al niet meer wist waar het over ging, is dan ook een logisch gevolg. Hopelijk schittert Jean Reno nogmaals in een oerdegelijk actiethriller komende jaren.

Peter Pluymers 

Words: copyright © 2019

Images: Screen Media

Tuesday, 7 April 2020

Vivarium (Lorcan Finnegan, 2019)

Three years on from his frustrating debut feature, director Lorcan Finnegan has returned with a greatly superior work in the form of Vivarium, a film which defies easy genre categorisation; while the label of sci-fi thriller might be close enough, there's also a healthy splash of horror thrown in.  Regardless of what genre(s) it may belong to, Vivarium is a creepy, unnerving and absorbing Twilight Zone-esque tale.  Finnegan and screenwriter Garret Shanley have certainly taken some chances with their film, and it's nice to see such risks being rewarded here as, despite some obvious ambition, their previous collaboration Without Name fell flat on its face.  The excellent Vivarium is helped no end by fine performances from Imogen Poots (recently seen in the lacklustre second remake of Black Christmas) and Zombieland's Jesse Eisenberg, two endlessly watchable performers who are reunited here following their work together on last year's The Art of Self-Defense.

Gardener Tom (Eisenberg) and teacher Gemma (Poots) are a young couple keen on purchasing a starter home.  While taking an impromptu look at what's on the market, the couple encounter bizarre estate agent Martin (Jonathan Aris, son of the great character actor Ben Aris), who persuades the couple to view a property on a new development called Yonder.  Martin shows the couple around house number 9 - which is situated on an eerily silent complex where every property is completely identical - then promptly vanishes before the tour is concluded.  Perturbed by this, Tom and Gemma get in their car to head home, only to find that every turning they make in the cookie-cutter streets takes them back to number 9.  After some arguing and numerous attempts at navigating a way out of the estate, the car runs out of fuel and the couple decide to spend the night in the show home.

The next day is filled with further efforts to leave, the failure of which prompts the desperate Tom to set fire to number 9; as they watch the home burn, Tom and Gemma fall asleep, and wake to find the house renewed and a brown package by the kerbside.  Gemma opens the box to find a baby boy and just one instruction: "raise the child and be released".  And raising the child is exactly what the couple proceed to do, although they are completely unenamoured with both the situation and The Boy (Senan Jennings), who grows to the size of a seven-year-old in just a few months and develops an uncanny knack for mimicking his guardians.  As apparently the only three people living in the whole of Yonder (regular food packages are delivered by an unseen hand), Tom and Gemma's mental health begins to suffer, and their stress levels aren't helped by their charge's unnerving traits, which include - but aren't limited to - screeching until the requisite amount of milk is poured on his cornflakes.  Using his work tools, Tom obsessively digs a deep hole in the garden in the hope of finding a way out, while The Boy continues to grow at an unnatural rate.

While Vivarium was no doubt conceived as a commentary on domesticity and parenthood, the timing of its release seems strangely apt, arriving as it does during a period when so much of the planet is in lockdown, with people confined to houses where, in effect, their worlds begin and end.  Obviously, Tom and Gemma's situation is a bit more extreme than the one most of us will face during the Coronavirus pandemic, but Vivarium's vision of a time when society doesn't exist beyond the confines of the family home is eerie for reasons which go way beyond the filmmakers' intentions; had it been released a year ago, this worryingly prescient film's reach would have been limited to its considerable atmosphere of dread.  However, judging the film solely on its merits and sidestepping the weltschmerz of the present time, this is a hugely engaging work, one that pulls off the impressive feat of locking us in with just three characters without ever feeling stagy.  As the film comes to a close, Finnegan - perhaps predictably - doesn't quite stick the landing, but Vivarium is nonetheless one of the most original movies you'll see this year.

Darren Arnold


Friday, 27 March 2020

The Remembered Film (Isabelle Tollenaere, 2018)

Back in 2015, Antwerp-based Isabelle Tollenaere's feature debut Battles examined what becomes of the traces of war: in peacetime, what happens to the various buildings and objects that were specifically constructed for conflict?  Whether chronicling the various methods of disposing of ordnance or highlighting how a prison camp can be repurposed, Battles nonetheless hinted at the unsettling idea that war - despite what John Lennon might have said - is never really over; rather, we just move to a state where we're between conflicts, and we learn to live with - and even make inventive use of - what's been left behind.

Tollenaere's 2018 short The Remembered Film, which also takes a novel look at war, could quite easily be viewed as a companion piece to Battles.  Opening in a lush green forest, it's some time before we hear anyone speak - on this basis, you'd be quite forgiven for thinking the film was going to be dialogue-free.  When someone eventually does break the silence, it's in the surprising form of a young man (quite possibly a teenager) in army fatigues, who speaks directly to the camera as he recounts some details of a conflict he was involved in.  This sets the pattern for the rest of the film as, one by one, a series of similarly-aged men relate their wartime experiences to the camera; quite poignantly, a few of them say nothing at all, but simply stare at the lens.

What is highly unusual about this setup, however, is that, judging by their uniforms, these soldiers seem to belong to several different armies: Wehrmacht, American and Soviet troops all appear to share these woods (although, curiously, all the men have English accents).  But what is far stranger is that the soldiers speak about wars that they couldn't possibly have participated in.  While these memories clearly don't belong to these men, they nonetheless do sound like authentic experiences.  From the stories, you do understand that war never really ends - at least not for the men behind these brief monologues who, in the main, remain haunted and disturbed by what they've seen.

Shot in a naturalistic, documentary style, The Remembered Film initially proves to be a jarring, slightly disorienting experience, and it takes a few minutes to tune in to what's actually going on.  Once you do, it's a satisfying, wistful piece, one which lingers long after its 18 minutes are up.  While none of the soldiers in The Remembered Film are as young as those featured in Monos, Tollenaere's film would work as an opening short for Alejandro Landes' nightmarish, hallucinatory tale; while the two films boast very different styles, they do share a special quality, one which taps into the poignancy of the countless young people who have been sent off to war.

Darren Arnold

Images: Flanders Image